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Empowerment in the Workplace is Crucial for Workers and Their Families

Posted by Caitlin McCartney, Intern | Posted on: June 20, 2014 at 03:04 pm

As witness Heidi Shierholz, economist at the Economic Policy Institute, testified at a U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee hearing this week on “Empowerment in the Workplace,” “An empowered workforce is one that shares fairly in the fruits of its labor.” Unfortunately, government policies have led to trends of inequality over the past decades. 

This is in part because policy has failed to respond to changing realities of the workforce, as Congressman John Delaney stressed in an opening statement. While workplaces are often structured around an outdated model of a two parent household with one breadwinner and one parent home to take care of family responsibilities, this model no longer works for families in the United States. Today, women comprise nearly fifty percent [PDF] of the workforce, and compared with 30 years ago, mothers of young children are almost twice as likely [PDF] to be employed. Additionally, men today report spending more time with their children. More than ever before, workers must balance work duties with meeting the basic needs of their families.

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Race to the Top: States Continue to Set New Standards with Minimum Wage Increases

Posted by Emily Wales, Fellow | Posted on: June 20, 2014 at 02:56 pm

Don’t Google “state pride tattoos.” There are just too many results; it’s overwhelming. But as my “research” proved, competition among states can manifest itself in some really silly ways. Every once in a while, though, that my-state-is-better-than-yours attitude is well earned.

Take, for example, the number of states vying to establish the country’s highest statewide minimum wage. More than once this year, we’ve read headlines that one state or another has climbed to the top – and it just keeps happening. In March, Connecticut was self-high-fiving during its reign. Earlier this month, Vermont snatched the title. And as of this week, Massachusetts is moving into first place.

The Bay State’s bill, which will raise the minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2017, received final lawmaker approval yesterday, and Governor Deval Patrick is expected to sign the legislation soon. Tipped workers will also see an increase in their minimum cash wage, which will rise from $2.63 to $3.75.

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Parents in Low-Wage Jobs Share Their Struggles Finding Child Care and Making Ends Meet

Posted by Emily Wales, Fellow | Posted on: June 20, 2014 at 02:24 pm

Women make up 76 percent of workers in the 10 largest low-wage occupations and they shoulder the lion’s share of caregiving responsibilities for children. Yet working parents in low-wage jobs – most of whom are women – face significant obstacles to securing child care that is stable, high-quality, and affordable. The Ms. Foundation is supporting an effort by six worker justice organizations – Adhikaar for Human Rights and Social Justice, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Garment Worker Center, the Retail Action Project and Center for Frontline Retail, and Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United – and the National Women’s Law Center to examine the working conditions in low-wage jobs that make it so difficult to arrange child care.

Together, we’re releasing a preliminary report with survey and focus group findings from participatory research conducted by the worker justice organizations that illuminate these challenges – along with preliminary ideas about where we go from here. Read the report here.

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Two Simple Tax Code Changes that Would Make a Big Difference for Working Families

Posted by Susanna Birdsong, Fellow | Posted on: June 20, 2014 at 12:21 pm

I have an almost 2 year old daughter, Lilly. She is so many things: funny, loving, adventurous, curious…expensive. I mean she’s worth it and all, but man does that girl eat her way (literally and figuratively) through our family budget every month.  I know our family is not alone. It seems like everyone is talking about the rising cost of raising children—and it turns out that talk is actually true. And despite the rising cost of living and child rearing, most family income is not keeping up, delivering a one-two punch to working families’ bottom lines.

On June 23rd, the White House will hold a Working Families Summit to focus on the current needs of America’s working families, and potential policy solutions that can help address those needs. I’m hopeful that the Summit will be the beginning of a concerted push for changes that will respond to the economic realities of working families—including some changes in our tax code. There are many tax provisions that can help families make ends meet while raising kids—and a couple of commonsense proposals to make those tax provisions even more meaningful.

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Working Parents Are Superheroes!

Posted by Michaela Olson, Intern | Posted on: June 20, 2014 at 12:00 pm

There’s a running joke in my family of the lucky coincidence that the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) was officially passed on the very day that I was born. On that Friday, February 5, as my family was welcoming me into the world, President Clinton was signing the bill into law, ensuring that new moms like mine could take unpaid leave for 12 weeks after giving birth, or to care for a sick child or family member, without the fear of repercussions at work. Of course, this bill was not a cure-all—for many families, unpaid leave just won’t cut it, and they need more reform to the existing laws to maintain their economic security.

The upcoming White House Summit on Working Families provides an opportunity for reflection on the importance of policies that help working families like mine.

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Senate Confirms Three History-Making Judges

Posted by Amy K. Matsui, Senior Counsel and Director of Women and the Courts | Posted on: June 20, 2014 at 09:56 am

Earlier this week, the Senate confirmed Judge Darrin Gayles (to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida), Judge Salvador Mendoza (to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington), and Staci Yandle (to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois). As White House Counsel Neil Eggleston noted in a blog post, all three of these confirmed judges have broken barriers in their respective districts. Judge Gayles is the first openly gay African American man to be confirmed as a lifetime-appointed federal judge in our nation’s history; Judge Mendoza is the first Hispanic judge to serve on his court; and now-Judge Yandle is the first African American to serve on her court and the first openly gay lifetime-appointed federal judge in Illinois. This marks the first time that two openly gay judges have been confirmed on the same day. In addition, with today’s confirmations, President Obama has appointed more female federal judges than any other President and more Hispanic judges than any other President.

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The "Mad Men" Working Conditions on the Construction Site

Posted by Gail Zuagar, Outreach Associate | Posted on: June 20, 2014 at 09:19 am

I decided in high school that I wanted to be a journalist. I often wrote in a journal and followed my hometown’s newscasters closely. I read magazines, picturing my name in the bylines. When I graduated high school, I, like most people, went to college to study my craft.

I went to classes packed with men and women. My professors were not only of the male persuasion — many women at the top of the journalism game taught me. When it was time to do an internship, I learned from women (and men) who were icons — whose names were known all over the city for their work in television and radio. I learned from women (and men) who worked hard, but had the support of their colleagues along the way, and who wanted to share that support with me.

When it was time to graduate and find a job, I enlisted the help of my professors, both male and female. But that first job out of school was a direct result of a reference from a male professor — one who believed in me enough to give me the opportunity to work on our little campus news program. He worked late every day to teach those who wanted to learn, and help those who were struggling. He’s no longer with us, but he truly knew what it meant to train his students. The support of that professor, and all the other teachers, mentors, and supervisors still means a lot to me. And I love the work I do.

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New Executive Order to Protect LGBT in the Workplace — Next Up: ENDA

Posted by Lauren Khouri, Fellow | Posted on: June 19, 2014 at 12:59 pm

This week the White House confirmed that President Obama will sign an executive order that prohibits the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees in federal contracting.

This is historic news for the millions of workers who are employed by federal contractors. Federal contractors employ more than 20 percent of the American workforce and collect over $500 billion in federal contracts every year. The executive order will prohibit these companies from discriminating in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity, helping to ensure that individuals who work for federal contractors are not denied a job, harassed, or fired simply because of who they are or whom they love.

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